Rookies armed for the varsity battle

Bear River sophomore one of many young QBs set to hit the field in openers
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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James Harris can’t keep the smile from his face when asked about starting at quarterback for Bear River High’s varsity football team. The sophomore remembers the conversation with coach Terry Logue last spring when he told the then-freshman that he was going to be the man behind center this season. “Coach came up to me in P.E. class and said I was going to be the varsity quarterback,” the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Harris said. “I couldn’t really believe it. My first thought was, this is going to be the best year of my life.” Harris’ story is a familiar one in the foothills these days. Placer, Del Oro, Colfax and Foresthill will also introduce new signal callers in their respective season openers this weekend. Two-time Pioneer Valley League champion Whitney unveiled sophomore quarterback Jake Rodrigues last Friday in a big win over Fernley, Nev. The first-year QBs all face similar challenges, though most are surrounded by talented upperclassmen, who will help take the pressure off of them. At Placer, junior Collin Burnett will make his debut tonight. He’ll hand off frequently to seniors Asher Gotzmer and Dalton Dyer, while fullback Josh Turney saw significant time in the playoffs last season. “I just need to be confident in my ability and my team’s ability to just go out and do the best we can,” Burnett said. “The leadership from Asher, Josh and Dalton and the seniors like Brandon Pope is just great. They really guide the team.” Burnett was outstanding in leading the Placer junior varsity squad to a 9-1 record last season and the PVL title. Harris didn’t even get a chance to play JV ball. He was the freshman quarterback last season at Bear River and played just one season of football with the Junior Bruins, where he played tight end. Bear River co-head coach Scott Savoie said the Bruins planned on using Brian Pedro at quarterback this year, but he moved to Hawaii after last season. Last year’s junior varsity QB, Joe Lavelle, decided not to go out for football this fall, leaving Harris as the unlikely predecessor to Tanner Mathias, who is now playing at Sierra College. Savoie said Harris’ physical size and his mental maturity made the coaches’ decision easier. “We believed he could handle it,” Savoie said. “We knew physically he was going to be OK and he’s a smart kid. He’s pretty savvy. I just knew he was going to mix well with the other kids and he hasn’t let us down.” Harris will be the first sophomore to start at quarterback for Bear River since John Anderson in 1992. Del Oro is turning to junior Max Magleby to call the plays behind center. He’s an excellent all-around athlete, just like his brother Mason, who graduated last spring and is now redshirting at Nevada. “As a sophomore last year, I think he was ahead of where Mason was at the start of his sophomore year,” Del Oro JV coach Jerry Van Lengen said of Max. “Max was a little bigger, a little thicker and maybe not as fast as Mason turned out to be, but Max can run the ball. I’ve watched him in the scrimmages and he looks pretty good. He’s got a strong arm.” Magleby will be surrounded by experienced playmakers. Senior Bryce Pratt is gearing up for a big season after surpassing 1,000 yards rushing last year. Spencer Butterfield is one of the top receivers in the Sacramento area. In Colfax, coach Tony Martello has made a habit of finding quarterback gems in the rough. He plans to platoon a pair of newcomers in senior Mark Macholz and junior Avery Baccala. Neither has attempted a pass in varsity action, though Baccala had a fine season with the JV squad last year. Foresthill coach Jim Herlehy is turning to senior Dave Whitsett, an outstanding athlete who played primarily at cornerback last year. They’re stepping into one of the most pressure-packed positions in sports as antsy, sometimes-awkward teenagers. But the first-year quarterbacks are, more than anything, excited to show what they can do under the Friday night lights. “I’m excited… and a little nervous,” Harris said. “But I think that’s normal.”